A Royal Preview

There’s something about watching as your teams’ pitcher tosses the rosin bag to the dirt, walks to the top of the mound, and toes the rubber for the first pitch of the season.  It’s a sign of good weather and good barbecue to come. Baseball is, to me, a sport that exemplifies the rich history of our country from a time divided, to the legendary Negro Leagues, straight to what has become the most diverse collection of athletes on a single field while 30,000+ fans wait in anticipation for a game changing home run or game ending, bases loaded K that adds another tally in the win column for the good guys.

Baseball is a sport in which I am truly passionate about.  Over the next 6 months, I hope to use this platform to inform, educate, and prepare fans of the game, specifically fans of the Kansas City Royals. Hawkjock has generously provided me with an opportunity to pursue another passion of mine: writing.  My aim with this blog is to do a weekly recap/preview of the Royals schedule and provide a mixture of statistical analysis and opinion. My heart bleeds blue and gold, as such I ask readers to forgive future embellishments and over confidence in this team. Finally, without further ado, A Royal Preview.

Kauffman Royals Fountains TheK Baseball

To truly preview the 2018 Kansas City Royals, we first need to look at this off season.  The transition from 2017 to 2018 is bringing us the biggest roster shake up we’ve seen in five years. Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, Peter Moylan, Jason Vargas, Mike Minor, and Melky Cabrera all departed.  Alcides Escobar and Mike Moustakas were both retained on team friendly deals. Two notable additions to the roster are Jon Jay and 2015 World Series MVP Lucas “The Arm” Duda.  Throughout spring training Jon Jay has showed some fire from the lead off position playing right field, while Duda was all but a write-in at first base from the minute he signed.

Despite losing six players to free agency, the lineup will still be full of familiar faces aside from the two mentioned above. At second base Two-Hit Whit will continue his impressive reign.  Alcides will be a fixture at short, giving Mondesi one more year to develop a major league ready bat. Moose is a lock at third with Cuthbert spelling him every four or five days.  The always-solid Gordo looks to regain his gold glove and (hopefully) not have such an abysmal season at the plate. Spring training has given Paulo Orlando a chance to show that winter ball has paid off this off season, which will most likely give him the nod to start the season. Behind the dish is Salvador Perez striking fear into the hearts of base stealers and unaware runners alike.  I see our one through nine (a few spring training stats included) going as follows.

 

Batter Average OBP HR RBI
Jon Jay .387 .486 0 3
Whit Merrifield .471 .491 4 13
Lucas Duda .384 .486 2 7
Mike Moustakas .346 .346 4 9
Salvador Perez .350 .409 6 11
Paulo Orlando .387 .406 1 4
Jorge Soler .230 .329 6 11
Alex Gordon .127 .234 0 4
Alcides Escobar .159 .213 1 1

 

I firmly believe that by the end of April, Mondesi will take over depending on his early season performance in AAA (if that is indeed where he lands).  Last season Mondesi had a similarly impressive spring training at the plate only to be allowed to fumble around for a month before being sent to AAA.  I’m hoping the Royals don’t make the the same mistake again in 2018. Gordon must have at the very least a career-average type of season for the lineup to get any kind of traction.  If he continues what would essentially be a two-year slump, Dayton needs to start discussing restructuring for the same dollar amount but laden with incentives.  I truly believe that the run scoring potential for this team is better than it’s been in the last two years. There’s a great combination of power, speed, and patience that could limit the number of breaking balls thrown out way.  My biggest concern going into 2018 is the pitching staff.

The rotation is going to look familiar to the end of the 2017 roster, except for Jason Vargas.  Duffy and Kennedy will lock in the first two spots to start the year. Assuming they can stay healthy and have slightly above average seasons, we should have a solid one-two punch every time around.  As for the other three, the field is a bit muddy.  Hamel didn’t exactly have a stellar debut season with the Royals. He was nearly a full point higher than his career in ERA, velocity declined, his WHIP was the second highest he’s had in six years, and he gave up more home runs than in any previous season.  He’s struggled mightily in spring ball, and I’m afraid his age and mileage have caught up to him with a vengeance.  Take a gander at the table below. I’ve compiled what I believe to be the starting five with a few spring training stats thrown in for flavor.  Aside from Duffy and Kennedy, I don’t see much to be optimistic about here while desperately hoping to be proved wrong.

 

Pitcher Games Started ERA HR Allowed WHIP
Danny Duffy 5 8.40 4 1.87
Ian Kennedy 5 2.50 0 1.39
Jake Junis 4 1.88 2 0.70
Nate Karns 4 1.98 2 1.39
Jason Hamel 4 9.75 5 1.83

 

How that rotation ends up shaking out is another story.  I don’t think it’s going to look the same as early in the year as June.  Hamel needs to find consistency in his delivery and velocity.  Karns is into his age thirty season and has yet to pitch in a full year in the major leagues.  Junis is a young, unproven arm that showed potential in the last two months of 2017. Kennedy allowed eleven home runs in his last eleven starts last year, which in turn saw his ERA balloon to a 5.38 when the dust settled. Finally, Danny Duffy. Duffy battled an elbow issue for a quarter of 2017, and he was pulled from his last start in spring training with shoulder tightness.  If he can stay healthy and find that consistent delivery, he’ll be able to right the ship and stop losing streaks.  Danny Duffy’s season will set the tone for the rest of the rotation, let’s hope it’s a good jingle.

Our 2018 bullpen will be the biggest weakness on this version of the Kansas City Royals.  Kelvin Herrera is the sole mainstay of the most dominant relief core to ever suit up together in the history of Major League Baseball.  Last year he looked like a ghost of his former self, eventually losing the coveted closing role to Mike Minor who filled in nicely.  Our starting staff is going to need to average 180 innings this year if we hope to stay in games with regularity.  I hesitate to stray into predicting who will be in the pen aside from Herrera.  Guys like Skoglund, McCarthy, Almonte, and Maness will likely make appearances. Veteran additions of Willy Peralta and Jason Grimm hope to shore up a glaring weak point on this team. The closer will be a revolving door of riding the hot hand with Herrera showing he’s not up to that kind of pressure in 2017.  It’s going to be fun and, at times disappointing, watching who steps up and see our relievers fall into consistent roles as the early season progresses.

Finally, here we are, the moment I’ve all been waiting for.  A prediction.  PECOTA has made somewhat of a tradition of making an outstandingly wrong look at the final standings for the Royals these last five years, averaging eleven wins below the end of season results and never predicting the boys in blue to win the division, much less the World Series after back-to-back appearances. The 2018 projection by PECOTA is just as Grimm (see what I did there?). PECOTA has, once again, deemed the Royals unworthy of being a franchise.  Not only are they slotted to be last in the AL Central, our team has been pegged as the worst in baseball this year at 66 wins, tying for the fewest in the bigs with the Fighting Jeters. Once again, PECOTA is going to be wrong.  I predict that the Royals will claw their way to a 78-win record, which will be good for third in the AL Central, and that we’ll be firmly in the running for the wild card until the last few weeks of the season.  This team is gritty and full of heart and character.  It’s the first official year of grooming the next great team.  I don’t know about you, but to me that’s exciting.  As long as a new free agent or two is cycled in every year to keep us out of the cellar and attractive to future free agents, I’ll stand behind DMGM.  After all, he’s done this once, and it turned this little corner of the Midwest into the greatest baseball city in the major leagues.

This is going to be an interesting year for the faithful, and a disappointing year for new blood fans. I hope that I can keep you coming back to our site and getting a weekly recap and preview right here at Hawkjock. Next week, I’ll be posting a player prediction piece for our opening day lineup (I know it’s late) and dig a little deeper into the rotation (what it is, where I think it’s going).  I’ll also be starting our weekly review and preview. Thanks for reading and as always, like, share, and subscribe.

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